East Ridge Route
Time to summit: 4 hours 50 minutes
Time to descend: 3 hours 40 minutes
Weather: overcast, 20s, calm most of the way up, Patagonia like winds from the summit back to tree line
My wife, Nancy, and I had Elbert on our short list for winter summit attempts this year. Based on a recent group summit (March 9) setting a trench and consistent conditions throughout the week we decided on Monday, March 17. Furthermore, based on a conditions report from last Friday we decided to forego snowshoes altogether. We dithered a bit on whether we should bring them ‘just in case’. But in the end decided if conditions required them we would either tough it out or turn back.
We started out form the South Elbert 2WD TH at 6:20am. It was fairly warm, about 20 degrees and hardly any wind. The majority of the climb was pleasant and seemed to be going much quicker than either of us expected. The path set by the previous group(s) was very easy to follow below tree line. Above tree line it got a bit faint but still easy enough to follow. When we finally got to the final pitch, after the false summit, we started getting blasted by short, strong wind gusts. Between gusts it was quite calm. As the gusts got more persistent we put on our hard shell hooded jackets, balaclavas and microspikes. The boiler plate surface was a bit much for our soft soled mukluks to bite into on the steep pitches.
When we got within about 500 ft. of the summit the winds were getting more persistent. Since we were so close, we continued on. Had the winds been that strong much lower we would have turned back.
When we finally got to the summit ridge, at 11:10am, the winds were getting pretty fierce. As we made our way to the summit post we had to drop to our knees a few times to stabilize. I considered calling it good but we made our way and managed to click off a few summit photos. However, there was no way I was setting up the camera on the gorilla pod. So, no summit photo with the both of us. Now we have to do Elbert again , since the only summit photo we have was taken with a cheap disposable camera back in 2003 (our first 14er summit).
At this point we were doubly glad we had left the snowshoes in the car. I can only see two outcomes if we had those strapped to our packs up there: a) snowshoes ripped from our packs and sent sailing into the stratosphere or, b) snowshoes sent sailing still attached to our packs and flailing carcasses.
We started down right away. Fortunately, the wind was mostly at our backs because it was sending spin drift ice crystals hard and quite loudly into our jackets. A few times we would stop to brace ourselves against the gusts and it actually buckled my knees.
By 1pm we finally made it back to tree line and relief from the persistent Patagonia winds. We sat on our packs while we ate a much overdue lunch of Cajun smoked salmon, aged cheddar and Girl Scout Thin Mints. A couple of inadvertently dropped pieces of salmon brought in a quick winged Gray Jay who gobbled it up then waited impatiently for some of the aged cheddar and Thin Mints. Sorry, no go Mr. Jay.
Feeling somewhat re-energized we continued down the final three miles and arrived at the TH at 2:55pm. I have to say the final 2 miles on the 4WD road is quite dispiriting.
We headed back to BV and the Eddyline Pub for chicken pesto pizza and an Imperial Java Stout.
Life is Good… Life in the mountains is better!
Still fairly warm
False summit still a long way off
Well above tree line and long way to go
Oh, the views!
Wind chill setting in...
... and still climbing
Finally, the half way point
Bracing myself against the Patagonia winds on the summit. Photo credit: Nancy Anderson
Descending in the spin drift